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2015 NCAA Wrestling Championships: 174-pound preview, picks

A weight-by-weight breakdown of the 2015 NCAA Wrestling Championships.

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 NCAA Championships begin Thursday and Illinois coach Jim Heffernan is taking his entire lineup to the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. It's the first time since 2006 the Illini have sent a full 10-man lineup.

Illinois' Zac Brunson (26-8) is seeded No. 11 and draws Rider's Ryan Wolfe (21-10) in the opening round.

[MORE: 2015 NCAA Division I Brackets]

Favorites

Nebraska's Robert Kokesh (34-0) is one of four finalists for the Dan Hodge Trophy, the sport's equivalent to the Heisman Trophy. Kokesh, who finished third and fourth, respectively, in the past two national tournaments has championships at the Las Vegas Invitational, Southern Scuffle and Big Ten tournament this season.

Kokesh defeated Penn State's Matt Brown, also a two-time All-American, for the Southern Scuffle and Big Ten crowns. Brown reached the finals two years ago before losing in overtime to Oklahoma State's Chris Perry, who also won this weight class last year. Brown holds two wins against Iowa's No. 3 seed Mike Evans, who beat him in last year's quarterfinals.

Contenders

Evans beat Minnesota's No. 6 seed Logan Storley for third place at Big Tens. It was the third match between the two rivals with Evans winning the previous two in overtime.

Storley has split a pair of matches against Kokesh at NCAAs the past two years. In 2013, Kokesh earned third place with an overtime victory, while Storley evened the score in the rematch last year.

The fifth returning All-American is Pitt's No. 8 seed Tyler Wilps, who finished seventh last year. Wilps won an ACC Championship and was named the outstanding wrestler of the tournament. Wilps dropped a 6-5 decision to Brown earlier this season.

Virginia's No. 5 seed Blaise Butler has moved up two weight classes for his junior season and owns a win over Storley. Virginia Tech's No. 7 seed freshman Zach Epperly holds an 8-6 win in sudden victory over Brown.

How about Illinois' guy?

Brunson beat Wolfe, 9-4 in November for his second match this season. Brunson feeds into Storley, who beat the two-time NCAA qualifier 18-3 in January. The Ilini wrestler will fall to Storley again before rattling off two straight wins (the latter likely against No. 14 seed Andy McCulley of Wyoming) in the consolation bracket to guarantee himself All-American honors and a medal. After which, he will face the loser of Ohio's Cody Walters vs. Wilps match. Either one of the guys should beat Brunson, especially if it's Wilps. The loss will put Brunson in the seventh place match.

Pick: Kokesh

Darkhorse: Storley

Illinois finish: Seventh-place

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